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CHEYENNE -- Wyoming's only ballot question for voters to decide in the November general election is getting little attention, let alone robust discussion.

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow the governor to appoint nonresidents to the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees.

The companion statute passed in the 2013 legislative session increases the number of trustees from 12 to 13.

The proposed amendment specifies that no more than 20 percent of the trustees be nonresidents.

Although this doesn't compute well, resulting in 2.6 nonresidents, the intent is to allow no more than two out-of-state residents to sit on the governing board of Wyoming's only four-year higher education institution.

As has been pointed out by critics, the ballot issue does not require that the nonresidents be graduates of the University of Wyoming.

It does, however, requires the nonresidents to possess "verifiable and demonstrable interest in and past interactions with the university which are reflective of commitment to the educational mission of the university."

The idea for the nonresident constitutional amendment came from Senate President Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne.

Ross cited the number of former Wyoming residents who have had enormous success elsewhere in their chosen fields and would be assets as UW board of trustee members.

The amendment, he said, is not intended to be a slight against any resident trustee.

"I'm hoping the public will embrace it. We are all interested in the University of Wyoming and we want it to succeed," Ross said in an interview.

Supporters point out the 60 percent of UW graduates living out of state make up a pool of talented professionals who could strengthen the university's board of trustees.

The amendment and companion law easily passed the Senate and House in the 2013 session.

Rep. Mike Madden, R-Buffalo, is one of the few lawmakers who voted against the proposal.

He noted the number of gifted people who live in Wyoming and questioned what expanding the board to nonresidents could lead to.

Madden said he was bothered by the possibility the change could lead to a "money game," making a nonresident board appointment the reward for a contribution to the university.

Since UW is supported by local taxes it should be governed by residents of the state, he said.

Moreover, Madden said, an appointment to the UW board is a major time commitment.

"The university board of trustees is a working board, not an honorary appointment," he said.

Although Madden is not an adamant opponent of the amendment, UW history professor Phil Roberts, a Wyoming native, said he finds the ballot proposal personally objectionable.

It falls into the category of "reverse snobbery," he said. "We assume because you're from Wyoming you can't do anything."

The amendment adds to the perception that the University of Wyoming is not connected to Wyoming, a notion the university has been trying to dispel for years.

It also creates the overall perception that Wyoming doesn't have enough qualified residents to serve on the board of trustees.

The UW Foundation board has a sufficient number of nonresident members to represent out-of-state influences, he said.

A territorial Wyoming governor, John W. Hoyt, was a delegate to the constitutional convention in 1889 and wrote the section on the university and the trustee residential requirement.

Hoyt also became the first president of the University of Wyoming.

Roberts questioned why residency is a problem a century and a quarter later.

"We'd better keep it in the hands of people who live here," Roberts said in an interview last week.

Unlike many ballot issues in the past, there are no groups promoting or opposing the trustee ballot question.

"This is not a constitutional amendment with a constituency," Ross said.

With no active campaign on either side, the issue is not getting attention from the voters at least not yet.

Failure to vote on the ballot question is counted as a "no" vote.

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Contact Joan Barron at 307-632-2534 or joan.barron@bresnan.net.

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